Permit Review and Appeals - Puget Soundkeeper Alliance

One of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance’s primary activities is the review and scrutiny of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits issued by the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology), to ensure that we are making progress in cleaning up our waterways.

Ecology writes permits that set precise limits on pollutant discharges to state waters. Permits have a lifespan of five years, when they are to be reviewed and discharge limits are to be reduced, with the eventual goal of zero pollution.

Individual v. General Permits

Individual permits are custom permits written specifically for and regulating a single facility. Most individual permits are for large-scale or unique industrial facilities and municipal sewage treatment plants. Individual permits are issued when a general permit is not available or would be inappropriate for a given facility based on the nature and magnitude of their operations. Fewer than 500 industrial facilities and municipalities are regulated by individual permits in Washington.

General permits regulate a class of industries or activities, such as discharges from boatyards or sand and gravel operations. This means that many different facilities are regulated by the same permit terms and conditions. The vast majority of facilities in Washington regulated by NPDES permits are regulated by general permits. A small handful of general permits regulate well over 4,000 facilities and municipalities around the state.

Point-Source v. Non-Point Source

Point source pollution is a discharge that occurs at a specific location. A point-source is any discernible, confined, and discrete conveyance, including but not limited to, any pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit, well, discrete fissure, and container from which pollutants are or may be discharged to surface water of the State. Point source pollution is regulated by the federal Clean Water Act. Dischargers of point sources are generally required to get NPDES permit coverage. Due to the nature of the regulatory landscape, Soundkeeper’s Clean Water Act lawsuits and permit appeals focus on point source pollution.

Nonpoint source pollution is any source of water pollution which does not meet the definition of point source provided above. Nonpoint source pollution generally results from land runoff, precipitation, atmospheric deposition, drainage, seepage or hydrologic modification. Nonpoint source pollution is not regulated by the federal Clean Water Act. Regulation of non-point source pollution, which includes agricultural runoff, depends largely on state level authority held by Department of Ecology. Agricultural non-point source pollution is the leading cause of contamination to our freshwater streams and rivers nationwide. Ecology’s fundamental authority to control nonpoint source pollution to state waters was confirmed by The Supreme Court of the State of Washington in the Lemire case in 2013.

Soundkeeper’s General Permit Legal Challenges

Industrial Stormwater General Permit (ISGP)

The ISGP regulates 1150 industrial facilities in Washington State. Chief pollutant of concern include heavy metals including copper, zinc and lead, turbidity, pH, and oil/grease.

  • 2000: Soundkeeper and other environmental groups appeal permit.
  • 2001: Environmental coalition achieves substantial gains, preventing new discharges to impaired waters.
  • 2002: Soundkeeper and other environmental groups appeal new rendition of permit.
  • 2003: Environmental coalition wins partial victory, strengthening regulatory oversight by invalidating self-regulatory systems including mixing zones, permit waivers and a compliance schedule for discharges to impaired waters.
  • 2004: Ecology issues permit modifications, incorporating gains achieved in decisions over the previous couple of years.
  • 2009: Soundkeeper appeals new rendition of the permit.
  • 2011: Soundkeeper wins permit appeal, successfully defending many of the permit provisions from industry’s efforts to weaken the standards.
  • 2012: Soundkeeper appeals modified permit.
  • 2019: Soundkeeper appeals new rendition of the permit.
Construction Stormwater General Permit (CSGP)

The CSGP regulates 1930 construction sites in Washington State. Chief pollutants of concern include turbidity and pH.

  • 2000: A coalition of environmental groups including Soundkeeper appeals the permit.
  • 2002: Ecology issues a new permit, incorporating gains achieved by environmental groups.
  • 2005: Soundkeeper appeals new rendition of the permit.
  • 2007: Soundkeeper succeeds in defending important permit conditions from industry attack, including the benchmark for turbidity and limits for discharges to impaired waters.
  • 2010: Soundkeeper appeals new rendition of the permit.
  • 2011: Soundkeeper dismisses its appeal.
Sand and Gravel General Permit (SGGP)

The SGGP regulates 950 facilities in Washington State. Chief pollutants of concern include turbidity, pH, total suspended solids, oil/grease and nitrates/nitrites.

  • 2005: Soundkeeper appeals the permit.
  • 2006: Ecology modifies the permit, implementing gains achieved by Soundkeeper’s appeal including improvements to turbidity and pH monitoring.
  • 2010: Soundkeeper appeals new rendition of the permit. In a successful settlement, Soundkeeper succeeds in strengthening effluent limits for total suspended solids and turbidity, improving enforceability, improving protections for impaired waters, and strengthening public disclosure requirements.
Boatyard General Permit (BGP)

The BGP regulates 70 facilities in Washington state. Chief pollutants of concern include copper, lead, zinc, total suspended solids and oil/grease.

  • 2005: Soundkeeper appealed the permit.
  • 2008: Soundkeeper, Northwest Marine Trade Association and Washington State Department of Ecology partnered on the Boatyard Stormwater Treatment Technology Study.
  • 2010: Soundkeeper reviewed and commented on the new draft permit.
  • 2011: Soundkeeper elected not to appeal the final permit and instead to focus on permit enforcement. By maintaining certainty in permit requirements for the regulated community, Soundkeeper hopes to see across-the-board implementation of required control technologies, including stormwater treatment, as required by the new permit.
Municipal Stormwater Permits: Phase I and Phase II

The Phase I Municipal Stormwater Permit regulates 14 municipalities. The Phase II permits regulate 113 municipalities in Western Washington and 32 municipalities in Eastern Washington. Municipal stormwater is the number one source of pollution to Puget Sound.

  • 2005: Soundkeeper reviewed and commented on the preliminary draft permits.
  • 2006: Soundkeeper reviewed and commented on the draft permits.
  • 2007: Soundkeeper and People for Puget Sound appealed the permits.
  • 2009: Soundkeeper and People for Puget Sound won permit appeal, requiring municipalities to utilize low impact development (LID) where feasible.
  • 2012: Ecology issues revised permits, implementing Soundkeeper’s 2009 victory. Permits are appealed by numerous municipalities. Soundkeeper intervenes in appeals to protect permit gains.
  • 2019: Soundkeeper appeals new rendition of the permit.
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) General Permit

The CAFO permit presently regulates only 17 facilities in Washington state.

  • 2005: Soundkeeper reviewed and commented on draft permit.
  • 2017: Soundkeeper appeals new rendition of the permit.
  • 2018: Soundkeeper appeals decision of the Pollution Control Hearings Board to the Superior Court of Thurston County.
Washington State Department of Transportation Municipal Stormwater Permit (WSDOT Permit)

The WSDOT Permit regulates stormwater runoff from roads carrying approximately 60% of the traffic in the state.

  • 2009: Soundkeeper appeals the permit.
  • 2010: Soundkeeper wins appeal, resolving the case via a successful settlement with WSDOT and Ecology requiring highway retrofitting, increased stormwater controls and increased oversight of construction projects to protect water quality.
Marine Industries Northwest, Inc. (MINI), Tacoma Shipyard (Now owned by Vigor Marine)
  • 1996: Soundkeeper appealed the modified permit.
  • 1997: Soundkeeper achieved a victory when Ecology agreed to reinstate permit effluent limits. Soundkeeper also entered a CWA lawsuit settlement with MINI formalizing their agreement to comply with the permit.
Shell Oil Refinery, Anacortes
  • 1998: Soundkeeper appealed the permit.
Tesoro Northwest Oil Refinery, Anacortes
  • 1998: Soundkeeper appealed the permit.
  • 1999: Soundkeeper achieved some permit gains related to dioxin monitoring requirements.
Kimberly Clark Pulp and Paper Mill, Everett
  • 2004: Soundkeeper and other environmental groups appealed permit. In a successful settlement, Kimberly-Clark agreed to more stringent furan limits and improved monitoring and participation in a study related to chlorine-free technologies.
Intalco Aluminum Smelter, Ferndale
  • 2007: Soundkeeper appealed the permit.
Port of Seattle, SEATAC Airport
  • 2003: Soundkeeper and community groups appealed the permit.
  • 2004: Soundkeeper’s appeal succeeded in improving permit conditions related to AKART (All known, Available, & Reasonable Treatment options), acute toxicity testing, and chronic toxicity testing and requiring compliance with narrative requirements for wastewater discharges. The Court’s Order also strengthened monitoring requirements for Miller Creek and revised receiving water study requirements.
Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, Freeland Shipyard
  • 2005: Soundkeeper appealed the permit. Shortly thereafter, Soundkeeper dismissed its appeal in a decision to focus on implementation.